Monday, 18 March 2013

Good luck, Francis I: you're going to need it

The election of a new Pope (above) is an occasion for hope. Humble, smiling, and above all new, Francis I can expect a bit of a honeymoon - which he's handled pretty skilfully so far.

But no-one should be in any doubt that his in-tray is tumbling over with problems that would make any national leader or CEO resign on the spot. For it becomes ever clearer that the Church is beset with deep-seated moral problems that no one man can hope to address on their own. Recurrent child abuse scandals are disgusting enough: evidence of high-level cover-ups and a continued culture of denial are even worse. States that allowed the institutional Catholic Church too much power have been conclusively shown as rotten in or near their core: take the Irish Republic's Magdalene Landries slave labour scheme, for instance, which we'll be coming to later in the week. It is little wonder that the Church is losing members, even in the new Pope's relatively loyal homeland of Argentina.

It's time to start again, really: otherwise the hypocrisy, double-dealing and mean-spiritedness of so many of the Church's leaders will sink another papacy, wearing out its leader in a manner even a formidable campaigner such as Joseph Ratzinger found impossible to cope with in the end.

He's going to need the ecumenical instincts of Pope John XXIII, the charisma and the PR skills of John Paul II, and the intellectual rigour of Benedict XVI. In short, he's going to need everything he's got - and then some.

But where to start? With the role of the laity, that loyal following of Catholic churchgoers that has been so loyal - and so neglected - for so long. For decades the priesthood made them feel guilty, ashamed, sinful in general - and then somehow complicit in the crimes that have now come to light. But as this superb column argues, the laity usually were not involved, and casting the guilt around like incense served only to distract attention from the real individual and corporate failings we now see laid bare. It is the laity that have to stand up, challenge their leaders, and demand better. Before things settle down again. Now. Today. Not tomorrow, but now.

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